Review: Microsoft Surface Pro
February 16, 2013
On June 17, 2012, Microsoft announced their Surface tablet design. The ARM-based version (Surface RT) was released on October 26, 2012, and reviewed here. The Intel-based version (Surface Pro) arrived on February 9. These products are the first Windows-based computers ever sold by Microsoft.
The Surface Pro is very similar in form to the Surface RT with the exception of being slightly thicker. This difference is small but very noticeable; the device feels chunky in the hands. The case is magnesium with the same integrated kickstand as the RT. Like the RT, there are front and rear facing cameras, 2x2 MIMO antenna, a 10.6-inch 16:9 widescreen display covered with Corning's Gorilla Glass 2, and a 5 pin magnetic charging connector.
The Surface Pro weighs about 2 pounds, is about 0.53 inches thick, and comes in 64 GB and 128 GB versions. The display is Full HD (1920 x 1024) at 208 ppi. Connectivity includes microSD, USB 2.0, and Micro HDMI video. Unlike the Surface RT, the Surface Pro runs Windows 8 Pro and can run software developed for any Intel-based Windows platform, which includes all versions of Windows except 8 RT. This alone makes the Surface Pro far more compatible with core university software and functionality in a full notebook manner.
The Surface Pro is, also like the RT available with two separate physical keyboard options, both cleverly built into screen covers. One (Touch Cover) is a virtual keyboard and trackpad with accelerometers for detecting finger force, while the other (Type Cover) is a thicker keyboard and trackpad for at least somewhat of a more "normal" tactile typing experience.
AirPennNet and AirPennNet-Help/XpressConnect function as expected.
ISC Exchange and Zimbra services both connect easily using standard settings and appear to have full functionality, and the Penn Online Directory connects to Microsoft Outlook as expected.
The Surface Pro is a very bold release by Microsoft that puts them firmly in an innovator role, one which they haven't been expected to occupy in quite some time. The Surface Pro places itself into a market niche that heretofore has been unfilled: a device with approximately the form factor of a tablet but with full notebook functionality and productivity.
Bold does not equal perfect, however, and it is clear that Microsoft had to make some difficult decisions in creating the Surface Pro. With the superior Type Cover, the combined weight is more than that of an 11-inch MacBook Air, and it is thicker than any other tablet with a similar screen size. The battery life is poor relative to other tablets, estimated at about six hours, versus 7-10 hours of web surfing on an iPad or Nexus 10. Windows 8 lends itself well to the touch-centric tablet interface, but non-touch-optimized applications such as Chrome approach unusable (this is somewhat alleviated when using a keyboard, but that is far from desirable in a convertible device like this one).
These are things that can be remedied, however, and Microsoft should be commended for entering this place in the market. It's conceivable that this will be a good primary device for a small sector of campus users, and an excellent complementary device for many others, particularly those who are tied to the Microsoft ecosystem. Moreover, if Microsoft doesn't abandon the Surface project, as they have with the Kin and Zune, and iteratively improve the hardware and software, the Surface Pro has a chance to become a significant device in the campus staff and faculty computing environment.
Microsoft Surface graphic courtesy of Microsoft
--John Mulhern III and Michael McLaughlin, ISC Technology Support Services (February 16, 2013)